The pandemic has affected us in varying ways. Early on, many believed it would be over quickly and be nothing more than a minor historical footnote.
But as shutdowns and stay-at-home orders stretched from weeks into months, I became restless. It’s funny how you don’t recognize how strong your desire to leave home is until someone says you can’t.
Like many people I was stuck in front of a computer screen all day working remotely, and the appeal of online gaming and YouTube time that had once filled my evenings after a long day at the office quickly wore off once the line between work and leisure blurred. I needed to get out: out of the house, out into the world, and most importantly, out from in front of this computer screen. I knew that much, but I still faced a dilemma of where to go and what to do.
The first photo Dan Walker took in a DuPage forest preserve on Oct. 13. 2020. This blazing tree was in the boat launch parking lot at Blackwell Forest Preserve in Warrenville.
I’ve always been a strong proponent of adults taking time to exercise the creative side of their brains. As children and even through adolescence, imagining and creating were almost second nature to most of us. Sadly, many of us lose this part of ourselves as the rat race of adult life takes over.
I remember being really into photography back in high school, so much so that for a long time I felt like being a photographer was my calling. Somewhere along the way I stopped listening to that call. Lucky for me I married an amazing woman who noticed my growing restlessness as well as my extinguished passion for photography, and for our anniversary last September she bought me an old, refurbished Nikon camera as a gift. That gesture sparked an old fire that once burned so brightly in my creative brain. I just needed to find the right fuel to keep it burning.
The sun sets through the trees at Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve on May 6, 2021. Photo by Dan Walker
I started by driving into the city to take photos of buildings and the odd trip to the zoo to take animal photos. It took a couple weeks to dawn on me that DuPage County has preserves to explore and photograph.
Around the same time, I left my corporate job after the pandemic put things in to perspective for me and I realized unequivocally that corporate work was not for me anymore. One day in mid-October I drove to Blackwell Forest Preserve in Warrenville to try my hand at taking nature photographs. I had never been there before and got a bit lost wandering around and taking photos. While I may have lost my way a bit in the woods, I found a love for our local ecosystems and a strong desire to share them with others through my photos.
Two of Dan Walker's favorite wildlife shots: Jimbo the great blue heron who lives at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve taken April 30, 2021; and a female red-tailed hawk that Dan worked with at Willowbrook Wildlife Center on July 17, 2021.
I firmly believe that the best way to help save the environment is to start in your own backyard. But people need to see, feel, and experience these natural wonders firsthand before they are inspired enough to act. Landing a job as a seasonal ranger with the Forest Preserve District allows me to explore and discover new things about our local preserves every day.
I feel obligated to document and share these experiences with others. If one person plants native flowers in their home garden after seeing a photo of a bee on a flower, that’s a win. If one of my sunset photos over Springbrook Prairie prompts a parent to bring their children there to experience those sights with their children, and the children grow up with a love of nature, that’s a huge win. That’s why I do what I do and take all the photos I take. It’s a fun hobby, but I hope it becomes a vehicle for DuPage residents to find inspiration and a passion to coexist with and protect local wildlife and ecosystems.
One of Dan Walker's earliest attempts at using a sepia filter, taken at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve on Jan. 17, 2021.
This season I’ve been blessed to work at the DuPage Forest Preserve District, where I’ve been able to take what started as a passing interest and turn it into a true passion that I’m lucky enough to share with all of you. I encourage you to take your own photos, create your own experiences within our preserves — they’re out there waiting for you. Please also feel free to use any of my photos to draw inspiration from, create art with them, and make them your own.
I hope that in some small way, one of my photos ignites that spark in you the same way it did me almost a year ago. If it does, then this journey I am only just starting will have already been well worth it.
Dan Walker with a turtle he found in the DuPage forest preserves.